The New England Patriots reportedly traded their first-round pick (no. 32) and third-round pick (no. 103) in 2017 to the Saints for receiver Brandin Cooks and New Orleans’s fourth-round pick (no. 118).
Cooks is a proven playmaker and productive downfield threat. Exhibit A:
Cooks’s deadly speed (he ran a 4.33 40 at the 2014 combine) allows him to function as both a deep option (he averaged 15.0 yards per reception in 2016) and a creator on short slants and screens. He’s also a good route runner and has solid hands, dropping just four balls on 113 targets last year. Plus, despite three years of experience in the league, he’s still just 23 years old.
Along with Chris Hogan, Cooks provides Tom Brady another field-stretching option in the passing game, but he has a much more well-rounded skill set than the former Penn State lacrosse player. Cooks will be the best wide receiver on the team from the get-go, and it’s harder to think of a better complement to Rob Gronkowski.
Adding a little intrigue to the move, at 5-foot-10, 189 pounds, Cooks is comparable in size and speed to former Patriots receiver Deion Branch (5-foot-9, 191 pounds, 4.47 40-yard dash), one of Brady’s all-time favorite targets.
By trading Cooks to the Patriots, New Orleans cuts bait on its 2014 first-round pick, and Drew Brees loses one of his favorite targets over the past two years. But after Cooks expressed frustration with his usage in the offense last year and with the emergence of Michael Thomas as the team’s true no. 1 receiver, a separation may have felt inevitable for the Saints’ front office. (The wideouts appeared to be involved in a passive-aggressive tweet-off this past week.) By moving Cooks now, New Orleans picks up an extra first-round pick (plus a third), giving the team plenty of ammunition to address glaring holes on the defensive side of the ball.
As for New England, it’s a high price to pay in terms of draft capital. Since they traded away their second-rounder for Carolina defensive end Kony Ealy earlier on Friday, the Patriots won’t get to turn in a card until the third round. But in lieu of picks in the top two rounds, they get the upside of a 70-plus-catch, 1,000-plus-yard, double-digit-touchdown producer with two years of club control left on his deal (one year plus a team option for 2018). It may be a shorter-sighted move meant to maximize Brady’s last few years as an elite passer — the move sacrifices three seasons of club control for a player selected with that first-round pick — but simply put: Bill Belichick just added a premier receiving threat to a team that won the Super Bowl.